Monday, March 14, 2011

Re-thinking macroeconomic policies - a graphical summary

The sub-prime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession have questioned several underlying assumptions of modern macroeconomics. Paul Krugman famously called it the "Dark Age of Macroeconomics" and many standard macroeconomics text books are currently undergoing wholesale revisions in the light to these experiences.

What should be the role of Central Banks, especially in ensuring financial stability? What are the policies and instruments that can be deployed by central banks? What should be the optimal inflation target? What are the exit routes available for central banks from extraordinary monetary accommodation? Do central banks have a role in stabilizing output, that goes beyond interest rate changes, especially when faced with deep recessions?

What regulations are required to ensure greater stability and improve the crisis-resilience of banks? What can be done to contain the build up of systemic risks and limit the contagion effects of deleveraging and resultant liquidity crisis? How do we mitigate the moral hazard concerns arising from financial bailouts? What type of financial market regulations are required to limit the possibility of asset bubbles?

What are the fiscal policy options for governments faced with an economic recession and zero-bound in interest rates? How should fiscal policy be organized during such recessions? Which policies deliver the greatest bang for the buck? How can we swiftly deploy stimulus measures in the face of political paralyses and gridlocks? Should governments restrain from stimulating the economy, when faced with zero-bound recessions, with short-term fiscal measures for fear of deficits and debts?

What is the role of global macoreconomic imbalances in causing and sustaining asset bubbles? What is required to prevent the build up of such imbalances? How should cross-border financial flows be regulated? What is the optimal capital account policy for emerging economies? What sort of international monetary system is required to satisfactorily resolve cross-national financial crises?

I have tried to consolidate the learnings from events of the last three years and the post-mortems and other research that has gone into more satisfactorily understanding and explaining macroeconomic policy making. The result is this graphic. While I must admit that it is highly simplified (all such beautiful flow-charts are meant to simplify complex policy eco-systems), it only seeks to broadly highlight all the different elements of a post-crisis macoreconomic policy framework.

It is clear that the mandate of central banks have to expand beyond inflation targeting and include financial market stability. And when faced with deep recessions, central banks have a credit policy role, whence it could become a lender, buyer, and insurer of last resort. Fiscal policy becomes critical when monetary policy loses traction and when interest rates are at the zero-bound. Its main instruments are automatic stabilizers and discretionary spending measures. The specific instruments of each policy, as indicated in the chart, are illustrative and is meant to merely guide discussion.

(Please click on the graphic to enlarge)

In fact, the IMF recently brought together some of the world's leading economists to a conference where the Fund and participants urged a wholesale re-examination of macroeconomic policy principles. See also this concise presentation by Olivier Blanchard.

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